Halston is an elusive figure in the 21st Century pop culture zeitgeist. Enjoying enormous success after making a hat for First Lady and style icon, Jackie O’, Halston established himself as one of the most formidable fashion designers of the 60s, 70s and early 80s. The name ‘Halston’ became synonymous with sex, drugs and the imfamous Studio 54. His celebrity cohorts included Andy Warhol and Liza Minelli and his extravagance was a thing of marvel as well as the cause of his eventual downfall.
Written by Tresca Mallon
Directed by Daniel Minahan and executively produced and co-written by Ryan Murphy, this limited series biopic tracks the rise and fall of a legend, whose name has been somewhat lost to the annals of history, but whose work has had a lasting impact on fashion and culture in America and throughout the world.
Ewan McGregor seems to be enjoying himself immensely in the role of the infamously eccentric Halston. From his affected accent to his haughty posture, McGregor encapsulates a damaged character that is incredibly insecure, yet immeasurably confident in his ability. While at times he veers into the dangerous territory of a gay caricature (Murphy has form for this *cough* James Cordon *cough), the vulnerability behind the persona shines through. Despite his bullet-proof icy exterior, McGregor’s Halston is strangely loveable and hilariously off-the-cuff. His affectations and extravagance soon become affable quirks that make up the flawed protagonist. It’s impossible not to root for a character that is trying so desperately to make his genius seem effortless.
Despite it’s glossy veneer, Halston has a substance problem (and I’m not talking about the cocaine). Despite copious amounts of drama, toxic relationships and constantly spiralling success, no theme is probed with any depth. His fiery and sensual love affair with Victor Hugo (Gian Franco Rodriguez) is omnipresent and returned to frequently, and yet never given primary focus. His business dealings are especially frustrating and given far too much screen time for how little they are expanded on. His traumatic childhood is frequently alluded to and forms the basis for many of his questionable decisions, and yet we get very few details. While Rebecca Dayan gives a formidable performance as Elsa Peretti, her character is barely developed above a base level. Perhaps appropriately given their relationship, she acted more as a blank canvas which reflected Halston’s personal failings. The only connection which is fully formed is with the indomitable Liza Minelli. Immediately endearing, Krysta Rodriguez physically embodies the spirit of the fun-loving, theatrical and vulnerable Minelli. Her relationship with Halston gives us peak behind the curtain to the humanity behind the brand.
While the show has been described by Halston’s family as “an inaccurate, fictionalised account,” the show seems to have been fairly faithful to the source material, the biography “Simply Halston” by Steven Gaines.. However, there are moments fabricated or exaggerated for dramatic effect, for example the woman in the vent at Studio 54 is based on a true story of a male body that had been found in the building around the same time. Given the copious amounts of drugs and sex and the unflattering depictions of the height of Halston’s ego, it is unsurprising that his family would not approve.
From top to bottom Halston is sleek and stylish. The colour pop vibrancy of a Ryan Murphy production is notably missing, and the colour palette is comparatively muted, appropriate for the subject’s minimalist designs. However, the characteristic immaculate and expensive costuming and production design of Murphy’s work are ever present. While the writing and direction is somewhat unsatisfactory, ‘Halston’ is a moreish delight for the eyes, that offers a good time and characters that we never really get to know. And perhaps, given Halston’s dedication to his decadent veneer, this is exactly right?